Road Trip! (Thursday July 24, part 3)

While still in Maryland, H began to feel the consequences of the Starbucks coffee she’d gotten in New Jersey.  Her driving became ever more efficient as she we looked for the next rest stop.  Not only was her bladder filling up, but the gas tank was getting low; it was time to think about adjusting fluid levels in their respective containers.

There wasn’t a rest stop, not on that stretch of I-95.  We finally had to risk getting off at an exit marked with a gas-station sign.  Fortunately, this was Maryland and not New Jersey.  The gas station was right off the exit.

H was feeling the pressure, and I told her, “Just park the car outside the rest-room area and go inside.  I’ll pull up the car the rest of the way to the pump.”  She parked the car and rushed out; she didn’t even stop the engine.  I turned it off from the passenger seat, then got out of the car.

It was at that point that I noticed that my cell phone was not on my belt.  I normally keep it in a leather pouch that clips onto my belt, and the pouch wasn’t there.  I looked around and under the passenger seat, but I didn’t see it.

I sighed.  I figured that most likely it had fallen off when I got into the car at the last rest stop.  Just in case, I could ask H to call the number when she got back from the rest room.  Maybe it was still inside the car, even though I hadn’t seen it.

Did you notice where I didn’t look?

I got into the driver’s seat, started the car, and headed for the pump.  As I turned the car, I glanced behind me and saw my cell-phone pouch lying in the road where the car had been.  As I pulled up to the pump and got out of the car, H came up and offered to pay for the gas.  Full of machismo, I quickly slid my credit card into the pump as I asked her to please fetch my cell phone from where I’d dropped it.

She came back with a sorrowful look on her face.  I understood why when I took the phone out of the pouch: the glass face was smashed.  I had run over my own cell phone.

I knew why she was sad.  She knew about the loss of my iPod, and had a vague idea of how it cost me to get the trailer hitch installed.  She thought I was out the cost of the phone.

Also, H relies on her cell phone, and she thought I felt the same way.  For H, the cell phone was her primary networking tool.  She uses it to keep in touch with prospective employers and to arrange gigs.  Even for short trips, she plugs a headset into her phone and uses it hands-free.  (Really, no jokes about “efficiency” this time.)  On long trips, she’ll call her friends and chat to while away the hours.  If my iPod is my teddy bear, then H has two: her cell phone and her iPod.

In my case, her empathy was mis-placed.  I don’t often use my cell phone.  I got my first cell phone in October 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks, because so many people’s lives had been saved by cell phones.  Since then, I’d paid thousands of dollars to cell phone companies, even though I used their cheapest plans, and hardly ever used it.  Only two people I know call me on my cell phone, and one of them is H.

I told H not to worry: I paid the monthly insurance fee to my carrier.  After a $50 deductible, they would replace the phone.  All we had to do was look for some large mall as we continued on the trip; there was sure to be a Verizon store there.  I thought they’d replace the phone on the spot.

Now there were two things to look for as we cruised down the road: an RV/trailer dealership, just in case they had a key for a Coleman trailer, and a shopping mall.  By a twist of fate, both eluded us.  Where is rampant consumerism when you need it?

As I said, I didn’t miss the phone.  What I missed was the voice memo feature on the phone.  I’m used to keeping track of all my expenses, even the minor ones.  This dates back to a time, around 20 years ago, when I was chronically short on money and getting into deeper debt.  I started keeping records of everything and typing it into my computer, as a prelude to making a budget.  To my surprise, just keeping track was good enough; my bank balance quickly got into the black and stayed there ever since.  All it took was an awareness of what my limits were.

To keep track of everything, I keep all my receipts until I get the numbers into my computer.  But there are lots of small things for which there are no receipts; for example, a quick meal at a rest stop.  For that, I’m used to dictating the price into my voice recorder: “Ten dollars and thirty cents for lunch; that’s one zero three zero.”

OK, that last part sounds stupid.  The problem is that voice recorders have gotten worse over the years.  The very best I ever owned was my first, a gadget made by a company called Voice Powered Technology.  Don’t bother googling them; they’re out of business.  They made a great device with pretty accurate voice recognition.  I could say, “Timer. Three. Hours” into it, and it would beep three hours later, when I had to take my medication.  It was great.

It also made me look really silly.  My friends took great pains to point this out.  They teased me for years with “Don’t forget: Timer. Three. Hours.” even after I stopped using that particular gadget.  My enemies never mocked me for using a voice recorder; sometimes I wonder if I should make more enemies.

I guess everyone who used the VPT gadget got teased as much as I did.  It never caught on.  In the years that followed, I’ve used other devices, and each one had poorer recording quality than before.  Part of it was my choice: I didn’t want to carry around too many gadgets.  Gadget manufacturers trade off voice recoding quality for size and low memory use, a multi-purpose device will have poorer voice-recorder quality than a dedicated unit.  In terms of multi-purpose electronic gadgetry, I’ll carry two small boxes, or one large one.  Right now, the large one is my phone.

To make up for the poor recording quality, I’ve developed the habit of saying numbers twice.  So you’ll hear me spelling out the price of everything I record.  I’ll recognize what I said when I play it back, one way or the other.

I suppose my friends could tease me about that, but they don’t.  They’ve grown older too, and their memories are beginning to fade like mine.  Either they’ve come to recognize the value of my habit of dictating into a voice recorder, or they can’t remember that I do it.  It doesn’t matter to me; I win both ways.

But I missed my voice recorder for the rest of the trip.

I joked with H, “I lost my iPod and I ran over my phone.  This is not my week for small electronics.”

Little did I know what was to come…

Next: Road Trip!  Thursday July 24, part 4.

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